Coffee Field Report: Uganda & Tanzania

uganda tanzania header

Wild animals, extreme traffic & incredible coffee. Our one and only Dom Musumeci journeys through the coffee farms of central Africa


Uganda

First Stop: Kyagalanyi Coffee. (Pronounced ‘Chugger Lanni’)

Leaving the airport, we are immediately held up by a motorcade for the Ugandan president. It’s a little reminder that we’re definitely not in Australia anymore. After a short battle with Kampala traffic, we make our way to the first coffee stop.

uganda kampala traffic
Kampala Traffic

Established in 1992, Kyagalanyi is the oldest coffee mill in Uganda. The mill is enormous, pumping out 450 Tonne every day; 80% of which is robusta and only 20% arabica – a typical mix in Uganda, which has only recently started to focus on quality.

After cupping their coffee, the team showed us some of the impressive community initiatives they are running in the area. These include initiatives to stop child labour, ‘stumping’ demonstrations to ensure continued tree growth for better coffee yields, adoption of fertilizer on crops and programs that encourage women to take the lead in farming communities. It’s an inspiring way to start the journey.

By now, we’re starting to feel the jet lag, so we head back to the hotel compound to get some sleep before heading further out.

uganda coffee grading
Before and after grading at the Kyagalanyi coffee mill, Uganda

Kasese District

After travelling hours of rugged terrain by light aircraft and 4WD, we reach the Kasese District in Western Uganda.

Jonny and James who run the Kisinga coffee plant explain how the coffee value chain works in Kasese. They start by showing us several buying stations who accept dry cherries only, graded as: (Kiboko, pronounced ‘chibucco‘), Drugar (Dried Ugandan Arabica) or FAQ (Fair Average Quality). These coffees are then packed, ready to be sold to Kyagalanyi Coffee.

At the local mill, we watched as they work to produce both wet and dry processed coffee.  They have also started producing some coffee using a new carbonic maceration process, an advanced technique from the wine industry used to control fermentation.

For me, the excitement was more basic: tasting a ripe coffee cherry for the first time. It’s a sweet taste I’ll never forget.

african raised drying beds, Uganda
 Coffee cherry & parchment drying on traditional raised beds in Kisinga, Uganda

In Kasese, the farmers traditionally don’t do anything to maintain their coffee plants, though the techniques Kasinga are showing the farmers by stumping, pruning and caring for their trees are starting to show better yields each year. They have model farms at different stages of their life cycle which demonstrate the difference these programs are having.

 That evening, on the way to Marifiki Lodge, we drive past elephants, deer’s, buffalo, hogs.. and stopped at the equator for a quick photo. In my room I was greeted by a gecko…no big deal.

Rwenzori Coffee Farms, Uganda
The Rwenzori area is dotted with small family coffee farms

Rwenzori

In the morning we visit at the Agri Evolve buying center. Agri Evolve is an English social enterprise working with the local farmers to promote quality, sustainable coffee practices. They show us how beneficial these buying centres have been to the hundreds of farmers that deliver their harvest here. The farmers often carrying 30kg sacks of coffee for three hours on their backs.

Celestino, the site manager, is encouraging the farmers to focus on high-quality beans so they can ensure they are receiving the best price per kilo. Poor quality beans are sent back and asked to be sorted. Agri Evolve plan to open up several of these buying stations for the hundreds of farmers in the area. I also got a chance to play soccer with some of the local boys who have made their own soccer ball, this was very humbling to me as a simple object like a soccer ball was so difficult for these kids to have.

We then said goodbye to the guys from Agri evolve and flew out on a single engine air cut aircraft which was quite scary at times though we arrived back in Entebbe unscathed.

Home made soccer ball, uganda
Home made soccer ball made from plastic bags & jute

TANZANIA

Burka & Mondul Estates

We departed Kampala for Entebbe for our flight to Tanzania. Another hectic battle through the Kampala traffic we finally get to the airport.

At Burka estate in Urusha we get to taste some beautiful sun-dried special process coffees. This estate has 400 hectares and has a selection of plantations that have been stumped with new regrowth appearing and established trees. The estate is a much more organized set up to than the typical Ugandan farms we saw.

At the nearby Mondul coffee estate, I’m blown away by the incredible 500 hectares of ‘Blue Mountain’ variety coffee, with their own wet mill & drying beds so they can achieve different processes. This estate had its own nursery with thousands of seedlings along with their own vegetable garden, which was the size of the soccer field. Oh, and it doubles as an actual soccer field for people to play on.

Coffee Seedlings
Grew these myself…coffee seedlings at Mondul Coffee Estate

Karatu District

The total trip from Kilimanjaro to Karatu was a 5-hour drive. We stopped regularly along the way as the roads were challenging. I was called into action when the front tyre guard fell off and one of the bolts went through the tyre. After a quick stop, I fixed the puncture and we were on our way.

When we arrive at Ngila Estates, we’re met by Paul and Emma the managers.

Here they are also experimenting with aging green coffee in wine casts alongside black, natural and yellow honey process methods.

After the tour, we got to try some of the coffee aged in red burgundy wine barrels. It was seriously amazing, producing deep winy, fruit flavours. When the processing is complete, the coffee is then vacuum packed before being sent all over the world. Overall, a really good operation focusing on quality, not volume and price. We walk back through the farm along the elephant tracks to see the geisha coffee varieties in the plantation.

Hand picking Coffee Tanzania
Hand picking in Karatu, Tanzania

Arusha, Tanzania

In the morning we drive to Arusha, roughly 4 hours, stopping at a few places along the way.

coffee fermentation tanks
Me working the fermentation tanks. Got to keep in shape somehow.

Mlimani Ngarashi Agricultural marketing cooperative society. This wet mill, formed in 1983, serves 260 farmers who send their beans to the estate. This year has been a small yield of 5T, but volumes can reach up to 40T in better years. Here, the farms do their own grading, a very manual process compared to other plants we have seen.

The coffee community here touches all parts of the community, from the preschool attached the mill, to the 90 year old farmer we met at a small coffee plantation.

green coffee drying
Green coffee drying before shipment

Small Holder Farms Visit

The next morning we visit the large AMCOS cooperative in Mwika North

This UTZ-certified cooperative started in 1940 and now has 922 farm members. They are currently fighting ‘coffee berry disease’ using resistant plant varieties to avoid spraying.

The volcanic soil is perfect for growing coffee, however the farms here like to diversify their income by growing peaches, bananas and cabbages among other simple crops.

ripe coffee cherries, tanzania
Ripe coffee cherries, Mwika North, Tanzania

ESTATE Visit

Next stop is the impressive APK Estate , which benefits from the rich, volcanic soils of nearby Mount Kilimanjaro.

The estate operates 4 individual farms, amounting to 1000 hectares in total, all of which are Utz and Rainforest Alliance certified. The Colombian owners, Oro Molido, have brought some different methods and unique micro lots: Bourbon, Kent, Gesha, among others.

Recently, they have been hit by changes to the coffee industry in Tanzania. In 2018, the Tanzanian government forced all coffee to be sold through the official auction, putting a stop to direct trade and forcing prices down for estates like APK.

Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
…as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. I heard it in a song once.

What an amazing trip. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous travelling to Africa for the first time, but the last two weeks have showed me not to believe everything you read in the media. The people of Uganda & Tanzania are smart, generous and welcoming. Not only that, their coffee is up there with any coffee producing region in the world.


For more on our approach to coffee, click here


Dom Musumeci
With hospitality in his veins, Dom moved from café owner to managing key accounts for multinational coffee roasters and then some of the biggest names in food. But the lure of coffee was too strong, with Dom now back to his roots as head of national accounts for Seven Miles. When he’s not adding to his frequent flyer balance, Dom can be found terrorising karaoke bars or reminding colleagues of the time he met the Pope.
Dom Musumeci

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